The existnece of the 'ethical consumer': a discourse analysis study examining consumer attitudes, identities and behaviours
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Ethical organisations have criticised the production of some goods made in the developing world, on the grounds that the producers are not given a fair wage, children are used for labour and the working conditions are poor. The ‘ethical consumer’ is aware of these issues and avoids purchasing items affiliated with these circumstances. Recent times have seen a rise in ethical purchases, however research has identified an attitude-behaviour gap between ethical attitudes and actual purchases (Simon, 1995). Consumer studies exploring the difference in people’s ethical attitudes and practices have used the theory of planned behaviour to try to predict actions from attitudes (e.g. Shaw & Shiu, 2002). These studies have had limited success in devising a model that accurately determines consumer behaviour from ethical attitudes. A potential reason for this is that a person’s attitude varies in accordance with the context it is expressed in (Potter & Wetherell, 1985), so is unlikely to be a good predictor of behaviour. In the present study participants were interviewed individually and in focus groups, to discuss their consumer practices and attitudes towards ethical products. These were then transcribed and analysed using discursive psychology techniques, similar to Edwards and Potter (1992). The findings indicated that the ‘ethical consumer’ is a category people avoid identifying with, most like due to its unattainable status. One of the main barriers to ethical purchasing was the limited availability of products, so even if people wish to purchase ethically they are unable to. It was also found that attitudes towards ethical issues were constructed rhetorically and vary depending on context, explaining the limited success of previous attitude behaviour models in this area.